Thank God for my legs and my life

Thank God for my legs and my life

Death Personal War

From driving habits to bombs with a 5 year old

On our walk up to school today Rowan and I started talking about people’s driving habits. This led on to me telling him about when I used to drive a big van with blue lights on it. This in turn led me to explain to Rowan about bombs and my time in Iraq as part of the bomb disposal team.

We ended up chatting about bombs and what they do and it brought to the very front of my mind how lucky I am to not only have my life but in particular my legs.

Going to camp DogWood with The Black Watch

As part of the bomb disposal team based an a small Hell-hole called Al-Amarah in Iraq which lies about half way between Basra and Baghdad we were tasked with the IEDs from a wide geographical area. One of the opportunities we had was to support the feared and infamous Black Watch [1][2] on their trip up north to Camp DogWood. The team and I (well the Boss) tried his best to get us on the job but we were not chosen and it was decided from high up that another IED team should take the task on.

The bad news came

As we had not been chosen for the job we just carried on with our normal taskings and in the coming days we received the news that the team that had been assigned the task had been hit by a vehicle borne IED (suicide bomber).

As well as 3 members of The Black Watch losing their lives [1][2] the members of the IED team who was doing my job as well as another member of the Royal Corp of Signals had lost their legs. If memory serves me correct the soldier doing my job was standing behind the door of a Warrior Armoured Vehicle. If he had not been then he may well have lost his life.

These two Soldiers were Mick Brennan and Neil Heritage.

This made us all very sad: not just for our fellow IED Regiment members but especially for the 3 who had made the ultimate sacrifice. It could well have been our team who was in that position and in particular it could have been I that was injured and now without my legs.

An image of many poppies

Picture courtesy of The Royal British Legion – The fallen will always be remembered by those who appreciate their sacrifice

Remembering all of this made me quite sad (but very thankful) this morning and upon returning from my walk from the School-run I started to look into this further. Initially this was just to confirm my own memories. As it happens the soldier who was doing my job started to ski as part of his rehabilitation and has represented the UK in the Sochi Winter Olympics [1][2].

I then began to dig deeper and found him on Facebook. Upon messaging him it turns out that unlike me he is not at all down about what happened.

Thank God for my legs and my life

All of this makes me thank God for my legs but also for the fact that I am alive and I have the love and support of those around me.

Although I do have PTSD, I feel no guilt over this particular subject: I have a very matter of fact view of it. I feel no guilt as there was nothing I could have done to change the situation. Nothing I would have done would have meant that we could have been sent to that job. All the circumstances that played out were beyond the control of our team.

To forget or not to forget…that is the question!

Although on one hand I wish I could forget my times on certain far off lands, on the other hand I never wish to forget a single moment of my time in these very same countries. They remind me of how lucky any of us are to be alive; to have loved ones around us and also reminds me of the good that I have done with my life.

On reflection. If I had the choice between remembering or not remembering I would definitely choose to remember. There are many quotes I could point to such as:

  • “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” – George Santayana
  • “Only by remembering the past can we avoid repeating it” – John Evans (2014)

but in essence they come down to this. It would be an insult to all those who have fallen protecting their way of life if we were to forget the sacrifice they made on our behalf.

Why I must work this morning

War

On my way back from walking Rowan to school this morning I opened up my pocket list and read a post that I had been meaning to read for a week or so.
It was by Sgt. Eric Williams of the U.S. Army. He wrote a blog post days before he was due to return to the U.S. from Afghanistan.

Unfortunately Sgt. Williams was killed on his way back to his home country. His post however serves as a reminder to all of what many of us feel after we have been to war. I remember coming back to the U.K. after my first tour of Iraq and thinking “Look at everybody. They are just carrying on as if nothing is happening. The live in a world of green countryside, friendly people and comparative  wealth and many think that they have it bad. They just haven’t got a clue”.

It is a sad fact that many veterans like Sgt. Williams and myself feel a barrier is now between themselves and civilian society. They can never understand what it is like to witness war first hand. Even now I am not able to watch the news on TV (thank you ISIS you Pricks!), I have an appointment with my Doctor in a few weeks to discuss my deteriorating mental condition (as well as my recovery following back surgery (but this is secondary)).

As a follow up to my initial post Living with PTSD I now plan on a follow up post on the things that Sgt Williams raised.

Please read his post at http://myfriendthemedic.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/coming-home.html and it will give you an insight worded better than I could put into words.

So why do I need to work this morning?

I love my job. Unfortunately I haven’t had much work in lately. I had to take quite a bit of time off in the run up to my operation as it got to the point where I couldn’t guarantee that I would be able to work x amount of hours. This meant that I had plenty of time to work on my skills and am now a much better coder because of it. It also means that I effectively had to start freelance again as the limited client base that I did have now have nothing for me as yet.

My job gives me a great deal of satisfaction and the project that I am doing gives me a great sense of pride; and so I continue plodding along with my cup of tea in front of me; my classical music playing to keep my mood level whilst I write about subjects that normally affect me emotionally.

If I don’t work this morning I will sit back and dwell on Sgt. William’s post. Instead. I shall be working and enjoying myself knee deep in the wonderful life of web development.

Right…that’s it for now. Everybody get back to work and stop using me as an excuse 😉
If you did manage to get this far though; well done and thank you 🙂

This is a message I received from a good Army Buddy yesterday. Such a shame that so many of use leave it too long before getting help 🙁

Mate have just read your ptsd site. As someone suffering even tho still in I just wanted to applaud your courage and bravado by speaking out
I've lost everything good I had by not dealing and am now that sad singlie living in the mess after going socially destructive.
Your work is inspirational bro. I haven't disclosed my problems to others (which similar to you is cied related but afghan) but you've made me realise I need to tackle it. Thank you.

Anonymous friend & good Army Buddy

Living with PTSD

Personal

Contents (this is a long page)

 

PTSD Post Introduction

After having PTSD for around 4 years now I thought I’d share with you what life is like as a PTSD sufferer. I consider myself to have a mild case of PTSD and I’m aware of many more people that have the condition much worse than I.

My PTSD thought process

An example

The other day I was having a discussion on Twitter which involved my usual extremist ways of dealing with people that break the law. The tweet that set my brain in a descending spiral of anger had mentioned that if I had my way the Army would have been brought in for the London riots of 2011. This set off a trigger that made my brain go down a similar route to previous episodes.

I start to think that some people (in this case the rioters) are very ungrateful of the sacrifices that I and others have made. Had it not been for people like me willing to risk our very lives being completely obliterated leaving those that we love totally mortified, they would not be able to enjoy the freedom they take great pleasure in flouting.

This increases my anger

I then start to think about the things that I and people like me have done in order to ensure that these morons retain their freedom (by this point they are the lowest form of scum on the planet and my mind is stuck in a downward spiral).

This gives my brain a chance to feel sorry for itself

The Favoured Incident

The time in history my brain usually decides to bring to the front and push in front of my eyes; nose; ears (& parts of my body that technically do not have senses) is a specific job when I was a member of the Bomb Disposal Team on my third tour of Iraq.The job involved going to suicide bomber that had already decided to share his hatred for the world with others. Whilst they were a few lifeless bodies laying on the floor, they were nothing that we didn’t see day in; day out.

After a short time on operational tour you forget that these lifeless bodies that you see in front of you are actually someone’s Son; Daughter; Mother; Father; Brother; Sister; Wife or Husband. Instead you see what is logical with the emotions stripped from the situation: you see an empty shell/corpes.

The reason that this job stands out is the sensory overload that was actually left after the operation had finished. Although at the time it was something that shocked me in many different ways, it was something that was quickly put to the back of my mind as we moved on with the various jobs that we received.

A picture of a bombed car could be a trigger for PTSD

This is the sort of thing that we had several times a day (click to see full size image)

The Onset of PTSD and Depression

I went on to finish my fantastic career in the Army and left to start a business dedicated to providing a courier service to the members of the Armed Forces and their Families based outside the United Kingdom.

After a year or so my business failed which co-coincided with the re-occurrence of two recurring injuries I picked up in my time in the Army. The fact that my business had failed and I had nothing to occupy my time meant that for the first time in a long time my mind had a chance to relax. As it turned out this happened to be a negative outcome. My mind was now relaxed and I was starting to suffer from depression from the failure of my business and the loss of my only means of income.

It soon became apparent that my mind was suffering more than it was telling me. I would avoid having a shower for a week at a time as when I got in there the feel of the water running down my face caused flashbacks of another bad job that we had (on the same tour) when we had to wash the blood and dirt from our faces. Even the thought of a shower and the flashbacks would fill me with dread. This meant that my depression got worse which in turn led to my physical conditions getting worse and so started the downward spiral.

Image showing the downward spiral of pain and depression

The well known downward spiral of pain and depression

Luckily my fantastic GP and the support team around him quickly diagnosed that I was suffering from PTSD and gave me the tools to cope with it. I would like to say that they have cured me of it but I don’t think the condition will ever leave me and I believe it is now about managing with it as best I can.

A good friend of mine Bill Waters also pointed out that

Drinking is not frowned upon as much as it is in civvy street so we are able to use it as an emotional crutch under the guise of work hard play hard. I think a lot of service men and women will suffer when they leave the service because that life style/comeraderie can not be replicated in civilian life and I believe that that in itself could be a trigger.”

How PTSD affected me – Self harming

In me it wasn’t evident straight away what was wrong with me. Obviously not showering and flashbacks were a good indicator but the general depression brought on my PTSD also led to a lack of patience and with a new son this was not a good thing.

Things came to a head when I had been self harming for a few weeks. By this point It looked like I’d been having an affair with Cat Woman (incidentally one of my Wife’s nicknames). In order to cope with one of my toddler’s tantrums I had to leave the room and drew every fingernail on my right hand from my left shoulder all the way down in one diagonal stroke to the right side of my stomach as hard as I could. Although it drew blood and hurt it wasn’t enough and so I filled my hands with hand sanitizer and spread it all over my torso – now that hurt. This was the first of the self-harming incidents that was visible to my Wife and she then became very worried (even more than she already was). I have to say that my son never saw me self-harm although he witnessed the outcome of the above incident.

The outcome of my self-harming was a calm feeling and a massive release of tension in my body. I am unable to explain it but when things got bad I just wanted to hurt myself and when I did I felt much better; as if a great big weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

The above incident was the final straw for me and the sheer thought that there was a possibility that my son may witness such an incident or start noticing the results meant that I had to seek professional help.

How I reversed the downward spiral

Again – thanks to the brilliant help my Barnsley Primary Care Trust /NHS and after seeing several different people I was given access to the back to fitness program. This gave me a 6 month gym membership for free to do anything I wanted in the local leisure centre. As a former swimmer and given the chronic back pain that I had I decided to concentrate on just swimming. I went most mornings and I saw the benefits almost straight away. I had to use a walking stick to walk with less frequency and after a few months I was actually able to look for work that would help me get even better.

I began to deliver Betterware and then Avon books. This allowed me to carry on the physical side of the treatment and the very fact that I was once again earning money and contributing to society was a massive Phycological step forward.

There it was, the downward spiral had been reversed. I was exercising again – this gave me a better mood and the fact that I was earning contributed even more. My physical conditions got much better and I no longer had to spend 18 hours a day laid on a floor unable to move.

PTSD Coping Techniques

Grounding

My second (more specialised councillor) taught me about a technique called grounding. I had to decide on an item or aspect of my life that would remind me that I wasn’t surrounded by sandy climates or in danger but was instead back in my home Town of Barnsley and was surrounded by the people I love.

Rowan Evans: Come on Down!

As I was a new Father at the time and I was a house-husband (with not so much emphasis on the house) I chose my lovely baby boy. He would always be there and at the time this was quite literally true. If I went somewhere, so did he and visa versa.

From then on, If I experienced an episode or flashback I could look at him or (if I was away from him) take something out of my pocket that belonged to him and I knew that the grounding strategy was working. This in itself would relax me and as I would always be extracting myself from the cause & go straight home to where I was safe – things would soon get better.

Image of a snow globe with a picture of my son inside it

My fantastic Wife bought me this for this [2013] Christmas to keep on my desk for when my son is not there and in case of a PTSD incident

Music

I find that music is a great help when I’m feeling down and particularly when having a PTSD “episode”. For me it has to be chilled out classical music: usually (unless I’m in a really bad state of affairs) chilled out classical music will calm me right down and make me forget my troubles. To a lesser extent there is music from the lovely voices of Alison Moyet and Adele.

Image of the Pur Classical Chillout CD cover

This CD nearly always calms me down and relaxes me massively

Modern Times

Moving onto more modern times. I still have bad memories and flashbacks. The latter are the worse and are a common occurrence in dreams and they often immerse me in the world I was once in. I see what I saw then; I hear what I heard then; I smell what I smelled then; I feel what I felt then (the sense of trying to anticipate what was going to happen next etc); this is even extended to senses that aren’t well…senses (hard to explain so I won’t try).

There are many days when I actively suffer from PTSD and there are many days (like today) when an incident happens and I know it’s one of my triggers so I do my best to try and keep calm. I am not in a position to carry my son around with me all the time and so I have to try and manage it myself. It is not easy.

Today I walked past to late teens/early twenties males walking down from Town and they each had a bottle of alcohol with them, openly drinking them during the early hours of the afternoon. It may be that they had just finished a shift but more than likely they had spent the money that we pay in taxes to buy booze instead of getting a job. This is a very common trigger for me. It helps if I’m not alone but if I am I find that listening to music through headphones whilst walking provides a decent distraction and gives me something to focus on when I encounter a trigger.

In general the lives of my family has been changed. I can no longer watch any programs that could involve exploding cars or things on fire and if I manage to catch a news report that contains something along these lines my mood changes for the worst for the next few hours at least.

My Wife – My Saviour

My lovely Wife has told me that she knows I dream of these times as she can hear me crying in my sleep. She is also aware of what sort of visual queues set my PTSD off and gives me warnings when I am out of the room. My Wife has stuck with through me all the bad time regardless of how bad I have been or how bad my condition(s) have gotten. Even when I had to spend 18 hours a day lying on the floor unable to earn money she has been the unflinching concrete post that has been supporting me and offering both emotional as well as physical help.

PTSD Facts

  • According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs 11%-20% of veterans of Iraq and/or Afghanistan will suffer from PTSD. Read More
  • Interestingly, it also says that only 5% of all men will suffer from PTSD where 10% of all women will suffer from PTSD in their lifetime.
  • According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists PTSD does not have to related to a specific event. It can
    also be triggered by less acute, but equally distressing and longer-lasting traumas, such as ongoing mistreatment, and physical or sexual abuse in the home.”

References